CHURCH HILL — With six returning starters on both offense and defense, optimism is high for the Volunteer Falcons.
“We had a good winter and spring,” Volunteer coach Scott Rider said. “Our numbers are up. Besides our returning starters, we have a number of players who have a lot of Friday night experience.
“I’d say right now that we are excited about the season. The key is for us to have some wins early so that we can build confidence.”
On offense, Rider has senior running back Casey Price returning. He is joined by senior wide receiver Tanner Dixon.
Junior Maliek Carpenter is filling a dual role at running back and receiver.
“Carpenter will be a kind of slash guy for us,” Rider said.
Along the offensive line, senior Hobert Stapleton returns at center, joined by senior guards Robert Ramsey and Hunter Aistrop.
Defensively, Price is back at linebacker and Dixon at defensive back.
Stapleton and senior Bryant Hill anchor the defensive line with junior Matt Reed at linebacker and safety.
Junior Brady Cunningham, who missed last season because of an injury, returns at linebacker.
“We’ve got a good, solid group back,” Rider said. “What we’re trying to do now is build up our depth.”
Reed takes over at quarterback, backed up by sophomore Preston Barnette and freshman Luke Dorton.
“Reed is a little ahead of the others right now,” Rider said. “He has the most experience. Dorton shows a lot of promise for a freshman.”
Volunteer’s strength will be simple.
“We think we can run the football,” Rider noted, but added: “We need to throw it a little better so defenses can’t stack the box on us.
“Defensively, we improved a great deal last season. We’re hoping that carries over this year.
“Our special teams will be a weakness,” he added. “We’ve got to kick the ball better.”
The Falcons, as with all teams this time of year, are learning a lot about themselves.
“It’s a new year with a lot of new faces,” Rider said. “We have to start building those relationships that help you become successful.
“We’re still a work in progress, but we feel good about where we are right now.”
While Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill, both Class 6A schools, continue to be the dominant forces in the Big 7 Conference, Rider feels the rest of the league, all 5A schools, is becoming more competitive.
“This is a tough conference,” Rider said. “If you don’t win the regular-season title, you can only make the playoffs as a wild card.
“I’ve always felt that to get better you have to play good teams. For us, we have to play hard and find ways to win games,” he added. “It’s really important that we have success in our out-of-conference games.
“In the end it’s about building confidence. If we can get some early, it will help us build momentum.”